CultureSkills

There’s something undefinably pleasing about knowing you’re the first, only, or one of the few.

Perhaps it hearkens back to our primordial roots, the ones that spread from Africa to the Americas in pursuit of survival by any means necessary. When our prehistoric cousins finally did discover how to survive by some means, they must have felt something similar to how we feel when we define ourselves through bold action and unusual experience. Breaking from the norm and achieving survivability in an unconventional but effective way – that was truly impressive.

Similarly, when we skip the cliché and seek the unorthodox, we engage in behavior that is more than just hipster nonconformism. Nonconformism for its own sake is usually more pretentious than purposeful. Nonconformism for our sake is different: it grounds us in our personal purpose, teaches skills and skills-building, and leads to innovation and creative diversity. Thus, breaking the mold with intention always succeeds in some way or another.

In contrast, cliché is the typical pattern of things done by people before you. It might be well-tested, but it’s also tried. It might be popular, but it doesn’t necessarily fit or serve you. Moreover, taking the typical path might get you to where you need, but certainly does not provide you (or anyone, for that matter) with trailblazing perspective and fresh experience. In fact, sticking with the cliché actually diminishes your potential returns because you can rely on others for help or use their methods to get through. In other words, you can cop out.

The most likely result of taking the most likely path is learning the most likely lessons – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there’s much more to be gained by seeking the unorthodox.

If you’re like most, you have a daily or weekly routine. Routines can be useful: they’re efficient and they give us a sense of security by putting order to chaos. Amidst the multitude of options available to us, we usually choose to do the same things consistently because it allows us to plan/strategize our lives more effectively. Exercising in the evening, buying groceries twice a week, going to school Monday through Friday… This is our routine, and it gives us the ability to easily schedule a proper time and place.

However, if you’re like most, your routine also starts to drag after a while. We know for certain that work starts at 9am, ends at 5pm, and there are X more days until the weekend when we can binge-watch old seasons of Breaking Bad on Netflix. The thrill has long been gone. Even though we have the opportunity, we choose to adhere to routine because it’s easy and the consequences for doing otherwise can be high. Who hasn’t thought about quitting their job to [insert dream here]? Which of us has actually followed through?

And so, skipping the cliché means reframing routine as ritual. It means grounding oneself in personal purpose. That’s not to say that you should go quit your day job – you shouldn’t, but rather, you should find ways to get excited about living your unique life. Rediscover awe. Turn the things that drain you into the things that sustain you. Commuting is a chore, but it’s also 45 minutes to enjoy music and audiobooks; data entry is mindless, but you’re doing it now so that you don’t have to at your next job. Your daily routine can become a ritual of self-empowerment helping you gain the insight you need to achieve your long-term goals.

Once you’ve left the clichéd road more traveled by, find the one less traveled by. Ditch the yes-men, the doubters, and the stubborn status quo-ers; exit the whole system entirely and trailblaze your own path. THAT is truly sticking it to the Man, dude. If you encounter difficulty along the way, it will force you to troubleshoot, work around, and creatively problem-solve. Confronting the unfamiliar is an opportunity to see life from a different paradigm.

Seeking the unorthodox provides you and those around you with effective, constructive knowledge. Living and sharing atypical experiences is a way of contributing to the collective human understanding. By going down alternate pathways and living to tell the tale, your insight can be compared and contrasted to the norm. Think of it like you’re adding data points to the cumulative data set, thereby making the subsequent conclusions more precise. It’s a way of fact-checking: does traveling to China always result in the same set of experiences? If you stick to the cliché of visiting the domineering, capital of the world, Shanghai, or pop-historical megapolis, Beijing, then it might. But what does your trip to Dunhuang, Tang Dynasty city near the Xinjiang-Gansu border, have to say? More than likely, your trip to ancient China’s remote outpost will offer unique perspective and a fresh take on what it means to travel to the Middle Kingdom.

Simply put, by avoiding the cliché and opting for the unorthodox, you can become more grounded in your personal, compelling purpose while gaining perspective, skills, and insight for yourself and your community. That’s a pretty great deal if you ask me. You can even start slow – set your alarm one minute earlier and brush your teeth with your awkward hand. Feel inspired yet?

Image: Flickr

CultureWeekly Reads

reads 1

These are the articles #TeamCarpe read and loved this week. What did you enjoy reading?

Inspire

A great response to a bully? “I love what you’re wearing.” This is what a teenager from Oregon is teaching kids: how to battle bullying with kindness.

Save

Love being online? Being plugged-in for hours on end can cost you.

Sleep

Having trouble falling asleep? Use the 4-7-8 breathing trick.

Read

The Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright’s Universe by Dan Falk examines how Shakespeare was influenced by observational astronomy. Shakespeare and science? Looks like a fascinating read to us!

Innovate

This TED talk from Jack Andraka, a teenager who developed a promising early detection test for pancreatic cancer, is sure to inspire you.

Try

Try these seven habits of optimistic people. Who knows, you might just find yourself smiling more!

Image: Carpe Juvenis

Health

Late night cravings are possibly the worst of temptations and probably of the unhealthiest. Fighting them off is a very difficult thing, as many of us have experienced. But how do you resist that bag of Doritos while watching your favorite TV show or finishing that essay? Here are a few tips to help keep the bad snacks away:

Integrate a Well-Balanced Diet

Eating balanced is perhaps the most effective thing you could do for your body. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables will call for an alkaline system and absorption of all of the fibers, vitamins, and minerals that your body needs to function properly. Protein is essential whether you attain it from meat or plant derived proteins, and making sure you get just the right amount is absolutely vital. Just the right amount of carbohydrates and sugars will give your body the fuel it needs to function. As long as your fats and oils are controlled, you are likely to be replacing those cravings with a healthier alternative.

Eat On a Schedule

Making sure that you eat on time is strongly correlated with how much you will want to consume later in the day and the types of food you will crave. Make sure that you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at equally spaced out hours with healthy snacks in between to keep your metabolism and blood sugar levels steady. Waiting too long to start eating lunch of breakfast can skew your routine which can cause confusion in your system.

Drink Tons of Water

Try chugging an entire glass of water when you begin to feel hungry. Many times, your body is actually dehydrated and what it really needs is water. Not only will this fill your stomach and replace the hunger but it will also cleanse your digestive system and free it from unwanted radicals.

Get Busy or Release Stress

We usually tend to think about food when we are in either stressful situations due to the inflow of anxiety or when we are bored. If we are stressed, relaxing or mediating is perhaps the best way to create an outlet for the anxiety we are feeling. Releasing it through food late at night is not only unhealthy but can also cause more anxiety because of the sugar spikes. On the other hand, if you happen to be bored, it is almost instinct to walk over to the kitchen. Try doing something other than thinking about food like finding a hobby, complete an unfinished task, or even go to bed early.

Build New Habits

Habits play a huge role in your cravings. Instead of eating on the couch or on your bed, make sure you make the effort to sit at your dinner table to eat. This will help you avoid the unnoticed urge to finish the bag of chips or box of cookies. Eating at the dinner table makes you focus on just eating and you become aware of how much you are consuming, making you more conscious and likely to avoid overeating.

Another trick can be to have dinner an hour or so later. This will make you fuller before your usual bedtime. Another strategy you could use to deceive your brain is to pre-pack healthy snacks throughout the day and have a special one saved for night. Pre-packing your snacks helps create portion control and reminds you that you’ve already put the effort into preparing them (meaning you might be less inclined to scarf down that left over pizza!). These snacks can include sliced fruits, nuts, or granolas.

Late night cravings tend to lean towards fattening foods rather than healthy nutrient-rich foods. For that reason, they are usually dangerous to your health and can cause weight gain. However, hopefully with these tips you can alter your approach and dodge cravings completely!

Image: A Dash of Cinema

Skills

I pride myself on being punctual, even if I am not always able to achieve that. That is because showing up on time is very easy to do but not always accomplished. Think of how easily you can impress someone just by being prompt. Here are some things to think about concerning your own punctuality.

Punctuality Is A Sign Of Respect

Being fashionably late is cool for a reason, right? It can seem that way but that is because it sends a message. That message can be good or bad. Being late in a professional situation says that your time is somehow more valuable than everyone else’s time. Even in a school setting, showing up late tends to affect your grade. Some teachers say that every time someone comes in late, it distracts from the lesson. It seems silly but if every single person is late, it could have a large consequence. In a practical sense, you are getting less work done if you are late. In a larger sense, arriving on time says that you respect someone enough not to waste their time. That message can be invaluable.

Lack Of Punctuality Signals That You Are Irresponsible

I know there are a lot of reasons that you could be late. Maybe your car wouldn’t start or you got into an accident. Anyone can forgive these individual occurrences. One time events likely won’t hurt you in the long run. The real trouble is serial lateness. You cannot claim to be stuck in traffic everyday. If traffic is a big problem for you, you can start leaving earlier. We must all find a way to remove the obstacles that are keeping us from succeeding. There is no need to always be a step behind everyone else.

Don’t Be The Flaky Friend

Your friends and family love you. They don’t hold you to the same standards that work or school might. You don’t have to be perfect all the time. You probably even have friends who don’t care at all when you’re late. It is still important to think about how your actions are affecting others. Your family may worry about you if they have no idea where you are. On the other hand, they might find you unreliable because they never know when you will show up for them. This is all easily fixed just by showing up on time.

Try To Forgive Those Who Are Late

I know I’ve written a lot about why you shouldn’t be late. That said, even though it can be annoying when others are late, try to think of what they might be going through. We never completely know someone else’s situation. It is better to see someone late than not see them at all.

Try to be punctual because it shows others that you value them. Don’t make excuses to keep a bad habit. Learn to improve. Just remember to be kind to others, because every situation is different.

Image: Flickr

CultureSkills

The New Year is about resolution, new beginnings, and fresh starts. However, many times, our wish to take on these new goals and challenges are paused by last year’s mistakes. Forget last year – it is long gone. The only things left of it are what lie in our memories. Okay, and maybe all of the ‘Facebook Year in Reviews’ that have infested all of our newsfeeds. Here are a few things that we must remember and forget about last year:

1. Breakups

A friend once told me, “Relationships aren’t necessarily all about love – they’re about learning about yourself and what you value in any relationship.” Her words stuck like glue. I’ve always been a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and relationships, be it a romantic or friendly, all have their reasons for happening. People are put in our lives for us to learn and grow. If people bring positivity into your life, you will learn and likewise, if people bring negativity in your life, you are also bound to learn something. Sometimes, breakups just mean you have learned what you need to learn from that person and it is time to move on to the next chapter in your life. Other times, breakups serve as reminders to make sure you are surrounding yourself by people that inspire, surround you with positivity, and push you to become the best you can ever be.

2. Last Year’s Failed Resolutions

We all have that New Year’s Resolution that we have thought of since November. Perhaps we want to get healthy, read that book that always seems to be referenced in important conversations, or learn to acquire more patience. And we also all have that disappointing New Year’s Resolution that seems to be every year’s repeated resolution. Cut the cycle. Take the initiative of not waiting around until New Years and start now. In addition, your failures last year will not be your failures this year. Time is ongoing and does not repeat itself. There is always a chance for new beginnings.

3. The Little Voice

We may be fearless, fierce, and fabulous when it comes to pursuing our dreams, but who doesn’t have that little voice of doubt in the back of their heads? When in the midst of determination and motivation, it is absolutely vital that you do not give into the small voice that has the power to hold you back. Perhaps this happened in 2014, 2013, or even in 2012, but not in 2015. The mind is most powerful – bury that voice in a place you can’t retrieve. Smother it with positive thinking and remember to always believe in yourself!

4. Grades and Job Disappointments

It’s understood that GPA’s are cumulative therefore, that impossible course where even passing, or the absolute taste of glory, last semester will forever be factored in it. However, thankfully that course last semester will forever be left in long gone notebooks. This semester is a new term composed of new courses taught by new professors. Do not assume all math courses will be impossible or all philosophy professors will be a dreadful walk through the underworld. Each semester brings new opportunity to improve your grades and learn from last year’s mistakes. Likewise, we all know that jobs that may have not worked out last year bring their burdens – be them financial or personal. However, it is important to take what you learned from these mistakes in order to not repeat them in future professional endeavors. Learning and growing from these mistakes and keeping a determined and positive outlook are key to any new beginning.

5. Habit Downturns

It’s possible your overall health this past year has gone downhill. Diets were broken with that 1:00 a.m. pizza craving, exercise habits interrupted by finals week, and eating habits completely totaled by just living on campus. It’s possible you began biting your nails or gone back to smoking cigarettes. There’s a chance you discovered habits of shopping until you drop or even a seriously undesirable Netflix addiction. It happens. But habits can always be shifted and changed.  Do not be discouraged by last year’s mishaps.

New Year’s is called “New Year’s” for a reason. It is out with the old and in with the new. What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Forget last year’s mistakes and take only what you’ve learned from them. Anything is possible this year – find it inside of you to conquer these goals!

Image: Time Management Ninja

EducationSkills

With the holiday break so close, studying for finals may not be the most exciting thing on your to-do list. However, exam week is critical and because of its importance, it can cause major stress. For us during finals week – as much as procrastination tried to distract us – starting to study early was super helpful. That way, when our finals test date crept up, we didn’t need to cram all night and we had a little more confidence. As painful as finals week is, you have the power to take control. There are many little useful tricks to help you study – hopefully one of these works for you!

Create a plan.
Before you dive in to your mounds of paperwork, old tests, and study guides, create a clear guideline for the most important topics you’ll need to know for each test. This way, when you spend hours studying, you will be studying the material that will be most useful. Also, set aside hours of your day for studying for each class/test instead of just studying when you feel like it. When you have a clear plan, you’re more likely to follow it.

Take 5-10 minute breaks.
For every 55-60 minutes that you study, take a 5-10 minute study break. Whether you are transitioning between topics or just need to clear your head for a bit, do something completely different to take your mind off of what you spent the last hour reading and practicing. Don’t be fooled, break time is not wasted time.

Designate a study area for a certain period of time, then change it up.
Spend the morning studying history at the library, and then move to a cafe to study English in the afternoon. When you’re back in your dorm or at home that evening, round out your day by practicing math equations at your desk. If you sit in one place all day long, you’ll start to get distracted and bored. Everything will feel like it is blending together. Switch up your environment for a change of scenery and for the walking breaks.

Start studying early.
As hard as it is to avoid procrastination, starting to study early is the best thing you can do for yourself. Since it is no surprise as to when finals are in the year, you can plan out your study days accordingly. Try to give yourself at least one month to study before finals week. During your first week of studying, you won’t necessarily need to buckle down and study as hard as you will in the third and fourth week. Use the first couple of weeks to review all of the material, start from the beginning, and refresh your memory.

Find a focus point.
Designate something to be your source of comfort. For instance, a favorite family photo, your childhood teddy bear, a soft tennis ball to squeeze, or a funny comic strip. Then, when you get anxious or nervous before your test, pull out your little object to bring some laughter, happiness, and focus back into your mind.

Walk/Jog/Dance.
Get those endorphins going! Cardio is good for your memory and health, and a quick dance break might be just what you need to remember a tricky equation or definition.

Laugh. A lot.
Just as you need your cardio break, you also need to laugh! Laughing relives tension and stress, so don’t be shy. Laugh away. Watch a hilarious video your friend sent you, listen to your favorite comedian, or crack a couple of silly jokes with friends.

Talk to your professor.
If you start studying early, you can create a list of questions you may have to ask your teacher. Swing by his or her office hours and discuss anything you might find confusing. Also, be sure to ask in class or during office hours what exactly will be on the test. Your teacher might not be willing to share that information, but it never hurts to ask. When you start early and arrive prepared, you will be more confident come test day.

Memory aids.
Maybe writing equations or definitions down on flash cards will help you remember them. Maybe acting out a Shakespeare scene will help you better understand the themes and major plot points. Turning the capitals of countries you need to memorize into a song or poem will definitely spark a reminder during the test. Do what works for you and be creative!

Study with friends/classmates.
But only if it makes sense for you. You want to study with people who are motivated to learn the material and who have been paying attention in class. Everyone should equally contribute to the conversation or that time spent with a group is just not worth it. If you find a good group to work with, divide up the material between your peers and have everyone come to the study sessions with their sections filled-in with useful information. When the group can help each other and maximize time and be efficient, it is a win-win for everyone involved.

Avoid the dreaded all-nighter.
It might sound tempting to stay up all night before the test to cram that last bit of information. However, if you stay up all night, you’ll be exhausted for your exam the next morning. What you study last-minute the night before will have little impact on your overall knowledge of the content, so it’s better to get eight hours of sleep so you feel refreshed, quick, and comfortable.

Enjoy healthy snacks.
Want to munch on something while you study? Snack on carrots, apples and peanut butter, popcorn, and almonds. Avoid sugary sodas, energy drinks, and too much caffeine, as that will just give you a sugar crash that you did not need.

Breathe.
When you feel your heart starting to race when you’re studying from the anxiety about test day, put everything down and just breathe. You’ve taken tests before, you’ve done the work all quarter/semester, and you’ve read the material. Breathe deeply for a count of 10 seconds, think about positive outcomes only, take a break if you need it, and then get back to work with a more relaxed attitude.

Good luck with your finals! You got this!